Confused about apparent contradictions in BSG, need help
October 12, 2007 12:18 PM   Subscribe

I have a couple plot/setting-related questions about part of Battlestar Galactica's first season, and was hoping to get non-spoilery answers if possible.

I'm sure it'd be possible to find discussions or answers relating to these questions all over the place, but I'm terrified of spoilers, which are similarly all over the place. I've only seen the first 8 or so episodes of Season 1 of BSG, for reference.

Question 1: What's the deal with Cylon-occupied Caprica? The miniseries implies that Caprica was nuked to hell by the Cylons, and yet all the scenes planetside afterwards, aside from the occasional mention of radiation antidotes, make it look like it wasn't nuked so much as all the people just disappeared into thin air. No destroyed buildings (although there is some implied neglect), and no corpses.

Is this a plot point that is revealed further on? Otherwise it seems like a major oversight of some kind. Or maybe future-nukes actually do just destroy people but leave buildings intact?

Question 2: If the Twelve Colonies were all in the same solar system (is that true? although even if they are just a close-knit group of solar systems, my question still holds), why do they have FTL drives?

It seemed implied to me that there is no human habitation outside of the immediate vicinity of the twelve planets, which I'd expect given the obvious ability of the fleet to jump to various star systems outside their one of origin. You know, like most other sci-fi settings with FTL travel - people live all over the galaxy. That doesn't seem to be the case here, which doesn't add up.

Again, if these are things explained in more detail later in the story, please let me know (preferably without actually spoiling anything :)). And if there are any decent backstory/explanation type sources out there that somehow won't spoil me on future plot developments, also please clue me in.
posted by cyrusdogstar to Media & Arts (21 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
My take on Q1: Cylons quickly rebuilt everything on Caprica. The cylon soldiers (or whatever the hell the non-human looking ones are called) could theoretically rebuild everything. Also, they only nuked major cities and sent troops to kill the remaining people (except the rebels that retreated into the jungle). So that would explain how they didn't destroy the whole planet, only major urban centers (which could be rebuilt in a matter of weeks which incidentally is when they start showing scenes of Caprica again). I think.

Holy shit. I just typed an explanation about BSG
posted by special-k at 12:28 PM on October 12, 2007

re: question 1: Neutron bombs, if low-yield enough, will leave infrastructure intact.
posted by zap rowsdower at 12:30 PM on October 12, 2007

First point-
Caprica's cleanliness is never explicitly addressed, as I recall. But a lot of Capricans escaped off the planet's surface after the initial attack. (Baltar, Helo and Boomer, for example) Also remember that one of the atomic bomb's big selling points has always been that it kills people but leaves buildings intact; the damage at the point of impact is immense, but the leaking radiation is capable of destroying much larger populations than the blast itself. There are other points, but I'm not sure at what time in the series they're revealed, so I'll let that be a surprise.

Second point-
I don't recall any mention of the Twelve Colonies being in the same system. The series goes into detail about how hard it is to find habitable worlds, so my guess is that the Twelve Colonies are bound by trade and government but not proximity, meaning that FTL would be absolutely necessary to continue any kind of close relationship.
posted by lekvar at 12:33 PM on October 12, 2007

From the The Twelve Colonies entry for the new series at Battlestar Wiki (entry itself may contain spoilers, so follow the link at your own risk),
"... the series itself is ambiguous as to whether all colonies are located in one star system.... In a blog entry [series creator] Ronald D. Moore states that all planets are situated within one system, in keeping with the Original Series."
posted by DevilsAdvocate at 12:43 PM on October 12, 2007

re q2: Even if the 12 colonies are in the same solar system (the series hasn't really said one way or the other) FTL would certainly speed things up. You'll recall in the miniseries that the fleet left a large number of non-FTL ship behind to escape the Cylons.

My take is that military ships would have FTL drives in order to quickly respond anywhere within the colonies. Mining ships would use FTL to get to other systems or even remote areas of a populated system to get to valuable ore deposits. Luxury passenger ships would have FTL to speed up travel for those that could afford it.

I do recall something in the miniseries about it being some time since a jump had been undertaken, though that may have just been for the Galactica itself, I'll take a look at the teleplay after lunch.
posted by jjb at 12:44 PM on October 12, 2007

1: Hard to film city destruction without a destroyed city handy. You'll see some rubble later on. Also, it's explained later that the Cylons cleaned up all (most) of the bodies.

2: FTL is treated as a very rare, emergency action in the miniseries. However, many ships did have the drives and it makes no sense for it to be so rare if that's the case. They've treated it differently ever since in the show proper and I believe that this is a retconned detail. The miniseries deals with space very differently than the rest of the show. For instance, Lee's stunt producing the EMP aboard Colonial One is observable by Galactica but they seem to be too far away to act or realize that the ship wasn't destroyed. Everything that comes later is more compact and carefully thought out.

Here's my view of Colonial navigation: They had a cluster of systems and used sublight and FTL drives equally since they had established coordinates within that area of space. Tigh mentions their jump to flee the Cylons as "way beyond the red line," implying that they're leaving a safe zone of predictable and mapped-out FTL navigation. Everything after that is always done relative to the Galactica or a planet. Nothing's explained about the distances, so you don't have to bring in hokey astronomical terminology like "sector" or "parsecs."

You'll find it less irritating beyond the first season.

On preview: everyone else is wrong. :P They explain later than the cylons carried away the bodies. There were no neutron bombs. Nothing was appreciably rebuilt during the first season. You clearly see that Caprica City is splintered when Kara does a flyover of it. Just imagine that all the shots with Helo until that point are in radiation scarred (the yellow tint=radation) parts of the city, not in the blast zone itself.
posted by cowbellemoo at 12:44 PM on October 12, 2007

Baltar's residence appears to be on a lake outside of Caprica city, and we see a bomb detonate nearby. I always assumed that the nukes were targeted near population centers so as to wipe out civilians with radiation without destroying the existing infrastructure. I never thought that the Cylons bothered rebuilding anything on the surface.

And at the end of S1 or early in S2, Boomer mentions that the Cylons removed and destroyed all the bodies that would have been left in the city.
posted by junkbox at 12:45 PM on October 12, 2007

According to Wikipedia, the Twelve Colonies are all in the same solar system in the original BSG, and the new version's producer has implied this has remained the same.

FTL drives would still be very advantageous with regard to interplanetary travel. Presently, at its quickest route, the trip to Mars takes around 6 months. Trips to planets further in our system take years. FTL drives would be tremendously useful in simply going back and forth from neighboring planets.
posted by Atreides at 12:50 PM on October 12, 2007

2) They have FTL because otherwise they'd never be able to go anywhere, and the show would be really boring. If you listen to the DVD commentaries, the producers have made a point of not getting bogged down in too much technical detail about that sort of thing.

Ron Moore has some experience with what happens when you worry too much about the technology in your show.
posted by designbot at 1:08 PM on October 12, 2007

again re q2: In the mini (script at least, not sure about the final cut) the Galactica's jump is a big deal for two reasons.

First, its been twenty-five years since the Galactica made a jump of any sort. As an old ship, its not unimaginable that such an old ship would not be pushed to its limits under normal, peacetime service.

Second, its probably the first combat jump for virtually all of the ships crew, as there hasn't been a shooting war while they've been in the service.

I recall that Cally says that she hates jumps, somewhere in the last moments before the Galactica jumps. Obviously she hasn't been in the service for all that long, but she's experienced jumps before.
posted by jjb at 1:17 PM on October 12, 2007

I think Atreides has it re:FTL. Even assuming that their standard engines are faster than ours, it's still a long way from here to Jupiter.

Don't worry, these niggling issues will give way to larger, more complicated contradictions as the seasons progress. :)
posted by mkultra at 1:21 PM on October 12, 2007

Response by poster: Don't worry, these niggling issues will give way to larger, more complicated contradictions as the seasons progress. :)

Awesome! *thumbs up*

Seriously though, thanks everyone for all the replies. I think I'm satisfied on both counts at this point. Now if only I could find the time to watch the next episode...this "life" thing keeps getting in the way.
posted by cyrusdogstar at 1:29 PM on October 12, 2007

My cynical answer to the first question is that it's too expensive to destroy a part of Vancouver to make it look like it was nuked. But without have to suspend disbelief too much, special-k's explanation also makes perfect sense. The Cyclons were all about "returning home" to the 12 planets from which they had been banished in the first wars. To that end, it would make sense for them to kill as many people as possible (with some type of neutron bomb or something similiar) while keeping the infrastructure relatively intact. Whatever was destroyed, of course, would have been quickly restored by the toasters.

As for the second question, I think it's quite possible that the colonies were in one star system because many of the ships in the original rag-tag fleet were destroyed by the Cylons because they were not equipped with FTL drives. The fact that there was trade between the colonies and they had ships with no FTL capability, we'd have to assume that they were relatively close to eachother such that conventional propulsion systems could allow them to do business with eachother.
posted by reformedjerk at 1:31 PM on October 12, 2007

If Helio survived, why didn't a bunch of other people? Did everyone live in the cities?
posted by YoungAmerican at 1:31 PM on October 12, 2007

On the second question, from Battlestarwiki:
"The Twelve Colonies had approximately 20 billion inhabitants prior to the Cylon attack and maintained some minor observatories and listening posts in outlying star systems. Economic activity, such as tylium mining also occurred outside of the immediate vicinity around the Colonies."
It comes up in a minor way later, but, yeah, it seems that the wealthier Colonies had mining operations in neighboring star systems, and I'd assume the Armistice Station from the first episode of the miniseries is somewhere along it outside the Colonial solar system if the Cylons fled far away to establish their home world. reformedjerk is right on sub-FTL ships (man, I'd forgotten that!), I think.

As for the genocided Colonials (re:YoungAmerican): fallout, the total destruction of infrastructure, roving Centurion death squads? And they don't all die out, of course...
posted by The Bridge on the River Kai Ryssdal at 1:48 PM on October 12, 2007

If Helio survived, why didn't a bunch of other people?

Helio had the anti-rad medicine to tolerate the fall-out remember.

However, keep watching.
posted by bonehead at 2:37 PM on October 12, 2007

As I recall, the temple of Athena contains a big clue which leads to a fairly definitive answer to the question of whether or not the twelve colonies are located in 12 different solar systems.
posted by Crosius at 2:39 PM on October 12, 2007

Yeah, the lack of rubble didn't bug me, because I noticed that they were filming the show differently (with a yellow tint) in irradiated areas. Even in non-irradiated areas of Caprica (i.e. the fallout bunker), the colour changes back to the blue tint the show has elsewhere. (Pre-war Caprica is also yellow, but not nearly as much as post-war).

The show was basically admitting it couldn't afford rubble, but still giving out a subtle 'this is irradiated' hint. I liked that.
posted by flibbertigibbet at 4:43 PM on October 12, 2007

Incidentally: the old models are called 'Centurions' as I recall. Or, yeah, 'Toasters.'

Wow I'm so looking forward to Season Four right now! You gotta catch up soon!
posted by waxbanks at 8:45 PM on October 12, 2007

Crosius: Nope, I'm pretty sure that was just symbolic, otherwise the colonies would be located great distances from each other; unlikely given the limited range of FTL, among other things. Caprica isn't in Capricorn, Virgon isn't in Virgo, etc.

It's "Helo", btw, not "Helio". Also, Battlestar Galactica: Razor late next month, and the "Razor Flashbacks" have apparantly been airing recently.
posted by Freaky at 10:12 AM on October 13, 2007

The fact that they are called "colonies" indicates that none of them is the place that human life originated. For all we know FTL might have been necessary to get to each one of them to begin with.
posted by bingo at 6:03 PM on October 13, 2007

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